WISH 96: When a Game Clicks…

In WISH #96, Ginger asked (Internet Archive):

Describe one or more occasions when a game went click for you and things fell together. Why do you think this happened? What factors made it possible? What were the consequences?

It just happened this past Saturday.

It was in the Scarred Lands campaign where I’m a player, and it was the result of a hell of a lot of hard work, and just the right combination of players.

This particular campaign’s had a few rocky starts. It began after George, the DM, concluded his earlier multi-year campaign — one that had been filled with player scheming, plans within plans, and hidden agendas. It was a fun game, but he wanted to do something different. He wanted to run an overtly heroic campaign, pitting player characters against impossible odds, with the understanding that the evil they faced may not be stopable … but willing to fight the good fight anyway.

The first false start put us on an island, and soon had players reverting to their tactics from the earlier campaign which were, well, less than heroic. The second start, with a slightly different set of players, placed us on the mainland, fighting against the evil empire of Callista. Unfortunately, despite a lot of game prep, things kept spinning out of control as conflicts between players left everyone wondering where things had gone wrong. It got to the point where we decided that we needed to mix up the player line-up, losing one person and adding another. We also decided to “re-do” the last adventure we’d run — with some notable modifications — in an attempt to get the campaign back on track.

On Saturday, we got together again for this re-do. George was once again DMing, and Brian was back with his scout/fighter Repp. My own character — a cleric/ranger of Talis, had also returned. We were joined by a new player, Rob, playing a dwarven fighter named Pandell. We embarked on our quest with some trepidation, given that none of us had done a “re-do” adventure before and Rob — our new recruit — had never played 3rd Edition D&D before (but was veteran 1E/2E player).

The session succeeded as spectacularly as the previous one had failed. Our mission, as before, was to attempt to take down a half-orc overseer named Delgas terrorizing the eastern-most reach of Callista’s empire. Our immediate goal was to capture a shipment of taxes destined for the Callistian village of Badberry, but our eventual goal was to either capture, kill or fatally embrassas the half-orc.

And we accomplished it all. Not in one strike, but in a series of maneuvers that were increasingly risky — and if I may be a tad arrogant — pretty damn brilliant on our part.

To start, we learned that the half-orc had a residence at a mining village about two days’ journey outside of Badberry. It would be there that the tax shipment would be traveling to and from. We decided to scout out the mining village — and unlike the first time around (in which one party member went off on a series of increasingly ill-advised quests that culminated with his capture) we successfully worked as a team to recon the facility. A successful Survival check revealed that the tax wagon hadn’t arrived yet, and after recovering from our forced march, we set out to find it. We did so, hearing it approaching perhaps 1/4 mile outside of the village. We moved into position, hoping that we’d be able to ambush the cavern, and then perhaps pass ourselves off as its guards, which in turn would allow us to infiltrate the town.

The wagon proved to be guarded and driven by orcs, so the infiltration plan went out the window (disguising ourselves magically wasn’t an option do to our low level) but the ambush was still possible. We made our first gamble of the night, and attacked. It was a close thing — despite prayers to Tanil (goddess of wilderness, hunting and song, who can provide upto a +3 bonus to ranged attacks when invoked) Sojourn and Repp’s strikes failed. It fell to Pandell the Dwarf to charge the wagon and kill one of the guards, then to leap onto the vehicle where he could engage the others. Sojourn and Repp supported him as best they could, with Sojourn finally throwing down his sling and running to board the wagon himself, where he smashed one of the guards with his mace while the dwarf made short work of the others (aided all along by Repp’s volleys).

The wagon fell within 30 seconds, and we were able to quickly turn it around and bring it back to the Vigil who’d hired us. He was surprised at how quickly we’d captured the gold, and gladly gave us our shares (though he was less than thrilled that we drove the wagon directly to his hiding place … ah, the inexperience of young adventurers!).

We then formulated an even riskier plan — we would go to Badberry and pass ourselves off as Callistian soldiers conducting an inspection of the town, and looking for the taxes that were not delivered. We were able to bluff our way past the guards were able to intimidate the barracks commander into believing we were who we said we were. So much so, in fact, that he gave us a contingent of guards to escort us on our inspection of the mining village. The fact that the Callistians are lawful evil helped us greatly; anyone speaking with enough authority — real or pretend — can compel others to do what they wish (at least until their credentials are proved false). It also helped that orcs and half-orcs are disliked by everyone, even the Callistians, and the commander in Badberry was all too eager to see his half-orc “compatriot” fall.

At the village, we threw the dice once more. Our plan was to bluff and intimidate Delgas into returning to Badberry to answer charges about the loss of the tax shipment. Failing that, we’d maneuver him into a position where we’d be at an advantage in a fight, and then try and convince the others we had the power to arrest him for insubordination (and thus, get them to help us take him down).

Delgas balked at being sent back to Badberry, but agreed to accompany us — with our guards — on an inspection of the mine. His own troops remained on the surface while our Pandell talked with the human and dwarven slaves and evaluated the condition of the mine. It turned out that the dwarves had already decided to do something about their overseer, and had rigged the mine to collapse. Meanwhile, Sojourn had continued his running argument with the overseer, accusing him of all manner of crimes and offenses ranging from the loss of the tax money to the hiring of orcish scum.

The time had come to strike. After subtly moving into position, we attacked the half-orc, Sojourn shouting out — “you are under arrest for insubordination and crimes against the kingdom!” Repp’s had the first shot, but his crossbow jammed badly. The dwarf suffered no such misfortune though, stepping up and burying his axe deep in the tyrant’s chest. He fell with surprise in his eyes (and, it’s safe to say, in the eyes of the DM as well). In game terms, the dwarf had critted, doing 49 points of damage and taking Delgas to -9. Sojourn quickly stepped forward and cast a healing orison to stabilize the half-orc, keeping him unconscious, but alive. He then shackled the orc with manacles brought along specifically for that purpose.

The Callistian guards we’d brought were shocked, but went along with our arrest decree (again, thankfully they were followers in a lawful evil army). We then got all of the miners out of the tunnel on the pretense of “evaluating” them topside and then quickly followed. The slave dwarves were last to leave, putting the finishing touches on their sabotage as they did so.

On the surface, we quickly lined up the resident guards for inspection … right over where we knew the mine was about to collapse. We then sent our own guards out to secure the perimeter, while Repp snuck off and climbed a nearby tower. When fighting broke out, he wanted to be in the perfect position to take out any stragglers with deadly sneak attacks.

The mine collapsed, and half the guards were instantly incapacitated, trapped under debris. The others found themselves at the bottom of an eight-foot ditch, and suddenly faced with a furious dwarf, who leapt down among them while Sojourn sent arrows flying in amongst their ranks. A few of the guards managed to land solid blows against Pandell, but he was able to drop them quickly enough, aided by the occasional arrow from Sojourn. Meanwhile, Repp was true to his word, and struck down the perimeter guards we’d posted as they’d ran back to investigate the mine catastrophe. Within minutes, the Callistian presence was utterly destroyed, the mine was gone, the slaves were free, and Delgas was our prisoner.

But it wasn’t just the role-playing and strategies that worked; it was the personalities as well. After two months of struggling and no small amount of soul searching, we’d managed to pull together a group that worked well, both as players, and as characters. There was a real sense of camaraderie and teamwork that nonetheless still left room for individual glory. The goals that George had laid out in the first campaign sessions — heroic characters, a struggle against an oppressive evil, individuals coming together to work as a team — they’d all been reached in this single, perfect session.

It was the sort of session where, after all is said and done, you just sit back with a stupid smile on your face, sipping down the last of the Mountain Dew, and reflecting on just how good everything had been.

It had, in a word, “clicked.”

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